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Fraunhofer AICOS in the finalists of the GSMA mWomen Design Challenge

In a joint venture, GSMA mWomen, Qtel Group, USAID and Australian Aid, launched the GSMA mWomen Design Challenge to address the mobile gender gap. The aim of this challenge is to design the smartphone user experience specifically bearing in mind resource-poor women. The goal then was to propose user interfaces taking into account issues such as low levels of written and technical literacy or cultural aspects while, at the same time, offering the possibility for women empowerment through, for instance, access to health information, family finance management, small business boosters or the possibility of handling private details.

The main challenges in creating intuitive and easy to use user interfaces lay not only in overall low literacy levels and on specificities of different countries or areas, but also on other issues pointed out by GSMA mWomen: common phone practices (e.g. the habit of phone sharing within the family in rural areas), costs of using a phone, resource gaps (e.g., power inconstancy), purchasing airtime or the economics of obtaining a phone (e.g., “In some cultures, if the vendor is male, a woman may not be able to interact with him and may therefore rely on a male family member to make the purchase”).

Fraunhofer AICOS’ HCI team decided to uptake this challenge and submitted a proposal to tackle the above mentioned issues. The entry, named “Aziza” (link to the video), was recently announced as being within the finalists. The winner will be announced on February 26th during the GSMA Mobile World Congress, in Barcelona.

A brief statement about the Aziza entry described the teams’ main concerns while designing the user interfaces:

“Our design choices were led by a strong will to convert the smartphone into a quite personal, unfrightening, object, akin to a personal diary or notebook. Rather than looking at differences, we have looked into what makes us human, and this has greatly informed our design: taking up the challenge of hand drawing, working with no rigid grid corseting the screen or identifying metaphors and references to real life. These were some of the approaches towards what we believe to be one main concept in empowerment: learning.

The proposal is devised to avoid manuals, tutorials or any kind of introduction, using icons associated to text, speech hints and animations guiding the user through the different elements. The medical widget illustrates this design with intent, by offering the woman the possibility of being guided through medical information and managing her family healthcare issues. This solution provides her the opportunity to learn not only about ICT, but also about other relevant issues which will build-up her empowerment as a woman.

The solution then illustrates how a child can benefit from her mother’s use of the smartphone and ICT. “Aziza” illustrates the benefits of being an empowered mother.”